Additional Suggestions for Institutional Improvements from Reed Survivors
Last week I wrote a response to Isabel Manley’s public resignation later in which I encouraged any survivors of sexual assaults at Reed who felt comfortable coming forward about their experiences to make sure their assaults were counted in the official yearly campus crime totals (if they happened on campus). At the time I was under the impression that this had to be done by reporting, or in some cases re-reporting, them to the Office of Community Safety. This information came from a conversation I had with a CSO supervisor about 3 weeks ago. However I have come to learn that this information was (thankfully) not entirely correct. Although practices may have varied in years past, all offices on campus are now asked to submit statistics each spring about the number of offenses reported to them in the past calendar year.
(However, as I understand it, the Health and Counseling Center chooses to exercise its right to confidentiality guaranteed by the reporting law – which is known as The Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crime Statistics Act or Clery Act.) I thank Pete Meagher and Gary Granger for explaining to me Reed’s interpretation of the Clery Act in some depth. I believe that Pete will be explaining some of the details of the requirements for this mandatory public reporting in his own article this week.
While I and many other survivors are glad to hear that Reed seems to already be taking steps to correct the serious problem of under reporting (which a quick Google search reveals has been an issue with the school for some time; in 2004, a sophomore named Alison Mahan revealed to the Oregonian that her rape in a dorm room the year before had not been reported in the crime statistics), this recent experience points to an even larger problem faced by survivors and their friends. For, based on the conversations I’ve had with and about the experiences of many people who were assaulted at Reed, one commonality stands out: an extraordinary difficultly in getting consistent, accurate information once they made the decision to report. I know I certainly have experienced this, and although I am appreciative of the all the help, support, and compassion I eventually received from various members of the administration, I will say that it was a struggle to get there. And that shouldn’t be the case.
For perspective, this general impression has been informed by the experiences of victims of more than 20 assaults perpetrated by Reedies. For understandable privacy reasons, these fellow survivors do not wish to be named, however, some of them would like to share some partial accounts of our experiences, as well as some suggestions to the administration to supplement those published two weeks ago in Issy’s “manifesto.” We do acknowledge that some of these suggestions are already under consideration by the staff- and student-led Ad-Hoc Committee on Sexual Assault, however, many of them are nonetheless years overdue. For example, back in January 2006 Oregon Attorney General’s Sexual Assault Task Force Campus Response Committee put out a best practices document called “General Guidelines for Comprehensive Sexual Assault Response and Prevention on Campus Version I”, which was the result of research very similar to that being done by our on committee…five years later. And, that document was by no means groundbreaking.
As Isabel has said, it’s all about the administration’s willingness to act and to change–and so far, based on our experiences as survivors and Issy’s experience on the “inside”, we just haven’t seen that. Survivors have been encountering some of the exact same problems for years, and the ideas for improvements have been around on campus for years, too. In fact, we survivors of sexual assault at Reed basically just request the school to in practice comply better with it’s own goal, as stated at the beginning of the policy on sexual assault, “to provide prompt, effective, sensitive assistance to survivors of sexual assault and to protect other members of the community from harm. The college strives to empower the survivor giving [him or her as much control over decisions about notification, medical or other treatment, filing of criminal charges, and other matters as the law and individual circumstances allow.” It is in this spirit that we suggest the following, our own “manifesto”:
Reed Sexual Assault Survivors Manifesto:
1. We think the most important change that could be made is making sure that survivors get consistent, accurate information from all faculty, staff, and officers of the college who act as resources for victims of these crimes. Incorrect information just serves to disempower a victim, making the healing process even more difficult and prolonged.
2. Similarly, we ask that all faculty, staff, and officers of the college treat survivors with respect and support. While to most this probably seems like something that hardly needs to be said, you might be surprised–like some victims–but the hurtful reactions some have received at our supposedly progressive college. For example, one survivor was actually laughed at by an employee she was telling her story to. Multiple survivors have been told to reconsider their desires to report and take into account how it would affect the assailant’s life down the road. As reported also in the Oregonian article published last summer, more than one has been turned away from the health center when asking to report an assault.
3. We ask that the online resources on sexual assault be made easier to find, read, and understand. This means, at the very least, linking the J-Board Code, inaccurately-named “recent” honor case statistics page, “recent” case summaries page, the sexual harassment policy, the sexual assault policy, & the CSO info on sex crimes, or, ideally, creating a new section of the website that specifically provides information on this topic. Importantly, this new site should be formatted in a way that is skim-able, so that distressed victims who have just recently been assaulted can get advice on what to do FAST. We also support Pete Meagher’s suggestion to create and post some hypothetical honor case situations/stories to go along with the very dry and technical J-Board Code.
4. We ask that all of the results of recent J-board case summaries be made available online, not just in the Quest archives and Library Special Collections. Currently the only statistics on honor cases available online are the aggregate number for cases in each category from 1994-2003. (http://web.reed.edu/honor_principle/j-board_cases.html) Moreover, most of the "Case summaries for examples of judicial action" online at http://web.reed.edu/honor_principle/j-board_case_summaries.html do not specify the year, nor are they presented in a format that is even easy to read. Ideally changes would include adding to the current summaries to the site and re-formatting them to include header (approximate date), case summary, findings, punishment–sort of like a legal brief.
5. As per the suggestion from the "Campus Response Committee General Guidelines for Comprehensive Sexual Assault Response and Prevention on Campus Version I," we ask that Reed publish "campus sexual assault policies and protocols to include the roles and responsibilities of advocates" as well as publish and post "reporting options (anonymous and known) for victims of sexual assault."
That is, to make things clear and consistent for survivors, these protocols and policies should be made available online and in writing/print to all survivors at the time they report. These should include Reed's interpretation of compliance with both the Clery Act and Title IX, with a clear explanation of what information is necessary for a report to "count" in the annual crime report statistics and what types of reports are both not allowed (such as anonymous or 3rd party reporting) and not required to be reported (such as those made to the HCC). It also should include a statement specifically on confidentiality considerations at each step of the reporting process.
6. We request that no officer of the college discourage in any way the reporting of the crime to the Portland Police Department, or offer advice on what they consider the survivor's chances of having/winning a criminal or civil court case. Even when given alongside the caveat that such person lacks legal qualifications, such advice is inappropriate, as it only serves to discourage and dishearten a victim during a very sensitive time, rather that provide an accurate picture of his/her options. There will very likely always be differing opinions among lawyers (and also among law enforcement officials) about the likelihood of a particular case succeeding in court.
7. We ask that the president and members of J-Board, as per Colin's own suggestion in article "Assaulted and Abandoned" (an article published last summer) consider stricter penalties for community members found in violation of the sexual harassment or sexual assault policies. Community service, drug and alcohol assessment/education, consent education, psychiatric evaluations, and short suspensions are not appropriate punishments for perpetrators of crimes that are all classified as felonies in this state. Such relatively light penalties should be recognized as a contributing factor in survivors' reluctance to report and/or pursue disciplinary action against their assailants.
8. On a related note, we support measures already proposed by some members of the Ad-Hoc Committee on Sexual Assault as well as the guidelines from the Oregon SATF document mentioned above: that Reed "ensure an appropriate and adequate judicial response to sexual assault by: 1. Designating permanent staff to investigate and adjudicate reported incidents of sexual assault. 2. Requiring sexual assault specific training for permanent staff and hearing board officials […] 8. Designating at least one campus judicial response official to participate on the campus and/or community SATF.”
We put emphasis on the part that suggests assigning “permanent staff” to deal with these cases. Given the emotional burden as well as amount of specialized training necessary for these cases to be handled properly, we feel that is a disservice for complainants, defendants, and J-Board members to have students adjudicate them. As I mentioned in my article last week, Reed is one of the only schools in the country to even have all-student boards for these types of cases.
9. Lastly we affirm our support for something that is already being considered at least in part by members of the Sexual Assault Task Force: that Reed train students to be on-call advocates (not just J-Board procedural aides) who could, ideally, speak competently both about the Reed judicial system as well as outside options. This could mean having students attend an official PWCL training program and another Reed-specific one, or alternatively hiring a staff member dedicated specifically to campus advocacy, like many other schools have.
We hope that these suggestions will resonate with other survivors and help administrators understand some of the problems we have faced, some of which they might not have known about or realized were so common. I also encourage anyone who may have additional suggestions or ideas for putting these into practice to get involved! The Sexual Assault Task Force is an open student group that could always use help and ideas. Please contact Celia Hassan or Alison Kopit for meeting times.